The idea of moving into a brand-new building probably sounds a little unbelievable to the employees of the Museum of New Mexico’s Office of Archaeological Studies (OAS). For the past 30 years, they have carried out their work in a succession of dingy, old spaces in the original St. Vincent Hospital (built in the early 1950s), the Joseph Halpin Records Center (1932), and the Bataan Memorial Building (originally built as the state Capitol in 1900).
This summer— perhaps as early as June— the archaeologists will have a sparkling-clean new building within which to consider their ancient subjects. The Center for New Mexico Archaeology (CNMA) going up on Caja del Río Road is a little over 30,000 square feet. Just a year or so ago, the construction project had a budget of about $9 million, but delays and the recession have knocked it down to $6.45 million.
“We’ve literally been working on this for more than 20 years,” said OAS director Eric Blinman, “through research and false starts and economies and different Legislatures. I’m now managing eight different appropriations for this.”
The CNMA is being designed to house a few dozen scientists and specialized analysis laboratories. And there will be a climate-controlled repository for about 10 million items in the state’s Archaeological Research Collections, which is the responsibility of Shelby Tisdale, director of the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture/Laboratory of Anthropology.
Most of the archaeological artifacts are small pieces of stone, pottery, and charcoal uncovered during excavations carried out before construction projects for roads and buildings. There are also stone tools, baskets, stone sculptures, and murals from a kiva at Kuaua, a 14th-century pueblo about 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe, within the boundaries of what is now Coronado State Monument.
Blinman said the CNMA will be the first structure built as part of a 25-acre Department of Cultural Affairs Collections and Service Campus. The next will be an addition to the collections repository, with a private ceremonial space for American Indians who wish to spend time with cultural items in the collection. During a tour of the construction site on March 3, Tisdale expressed her hope that a funding windfall would allow that to be built as part of the current project.
Lockwood Construction and the architect, Kells + Craig of Albuquerque, are striving for a Silver certification in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green-building system. “Actually, we’re just a point or two away from Gold,” Blinman said. “We have yet to achieve innovation points, and for that we’re exploring doing an ethnobotanic display garden for the past 12,000 years of New Mexico occupation.”
The garden and the center’s landscaping will be nourished with water stored in underground cisterns with a capacity of 40,000 gallons. The potable-water supply for the building’s users will come from the Río Grande when the Buckman Direct Diversion Project is finished.
“We’re dealing with challenges,” Blinman affirmed. “Our building will be ready before county water is available. We could drill a well now, and it would be unnecessary in a year, but no one wants more straws in the aquifer. So the challenge is to figure how to keep potable water and fire suppression going until we have Buckman.”